DBT Video Text: Crisis

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These are scripts from videos by Dialectical Behavioral Therapy creator Marsha Linehan describing DBT skills. You can purchase the videos from Behavioral Tech LLC.

Hi. I’m Marsha Linehan. I’m a professor at the University of Washington and a researcher there. The kind of research I do is on behavior therapy. And in my research over the last, well frankly, a lot of years, I’ve been developing behavioral skills. And I’ve been developing these skills and then I do research to see if the skills work. And the good news is most of the skills that I’ve developed work. At least for some people some of the time. 

So there are lots of different sets of skills but the skills that I’m going to teach you on this program are called Crisis Survival Skills. 

Now, if you happen to have my book or if somebody has given you pages from my book, then you’re going to want to open your book or get out your pages. And the ones you’re going to be looking for are called Distress Tolerance Handout I Crisis Survival Strategies and the first one is called Distracting. So we’re going to review all those skills.  And then the second one is called Distress Tolerance Handout I Crisis Survival Strategies Self Soothing. And we’re going to go over all those skills too.

So that’s what we’re going to do in this program. We’re going to work on how to survive a crisis without making it worse. That’s the basic idea.

Now, there are a few things I have to tell you before we get going. These are really important.

The first thing is the skills I’m going to teach you in this particular program are not the skills that are going to solve all your life problems. And they’re really not going to be enough skills to build a life worth living. They’re not even going to be enough to figure out how to change everything about yourself you don’t like. Or how to change your life and all the things in your life you don’t like. I’m all for solving life’s problems; I’m sure you are too.  I’m for building a life worth living; I’m sure you are too. And, well, I’m all for changing every single thing about yourself that you don’t like. If it’s possible, I’m for it. The problem is, is that in order to do that, in order to build your life up, well, it’s just not going to work out if you don’t stop tearing your life down. In other words, if you’re a person who sometimes makes things worse, well, I hate to give you the bad news here right at the beginning of the program, but I’m telling you right now, you’re going to have to stop that. You cannot continue to make your life worse.

So, the question of course is how would you do that? How would you stop making your life worse? Most people only make their lives worse in dire situations. That is to say in crises, times of terrible trauma. Are you one of those people? Think about it for a minute. And just think back on your life. Do you do things that actually make things worse instead of better? Maybe you go for the bottle. Maybe you eat too much. Take drugs. You think about killing yourself – some people do. If you’re one of those people these skills are for you.


The first thing we’re going to ask is what a crisis is. I mean if you’re going to learn crisis survival strategies, it’d be a good idea to know what a crisis is. So what is a crisis?

Well, first a crisis is a stressful event. Often it’s a traumatic moment. Usually there’s a lot of emotional stress in a crisis. That’s the first characteristic.

The second characteristic is they’re short term. I mean, crisis don’t last forever. If it’s something that lasts forever and you think it’s a crisis, it’s your life, not a crisis.

Third, what goes on in a crisis, you want it resolved right now.  Generally there’s a sense of urgency like ‘Ah, I’ve got to get it solved!’ or ‘I’ve got to get out, I’ve got to get out, I’ve got to get away!’

So that’s what a crisis is. There are two main rules of crisis survival. The first rule is, if you are in a crisis and you can solve the problem now, solve it. Ok. Rule 1: Solve the problem if you can solve it.

Alright. The second rule of crisis survival is if you can’t solve the problem, survive it. Got that? What are they? The first rule: solve it. The second rule: survive it.

This program is going to assume for the moment that you’ve got a crisis; it’s got a problem in it that you can’t solve. So we’re going to focus not on how to solve the problem ’cause we’re assuming that even though you may be able to solve it another time, you can’t solve it now. So we’re going to assume that. So what we’re going to focus in is how to actually survive it.

How in the world would you do that?  I mean, how do you survive times of trauma and stress when all you want to do is run away, hide, get in bed and pull the covers over your head, or do other things? Well, in this program I’m going to focus in on two different kinds of skills. The first set of skills are going to be the Distract skills. And the second are going to be the Self-Soothing. Two of my favorite sets of skills. 

Now, before I get going on these I just want to say a couple of things about them before I tell you how to do them. First thing is, have you been told by somebody that you distract too much?  And you’re thinking, ‘Hey, wait a minute what is she doing teaching me how to distract! This is ridiculous!’ My therapist, or my friends, or my mother, or my partner, or somebody tells me, ‘Stop distracting.’ Alright. 

If you distract when you can solve the problem – not a good idea. The time to distract – when you can’t solve the problem. So we’re going to talk about that. But just remember I’m not advising you, don’t go telling everybody I’m saying this either, to distract all the time. 

Now the second set of skills…I don’t know lots of people I work with have loads of problems with them, they’re self soothing skills. So you may be thinking to yourself. ‘Well, I’m going to listen to Distracting and I’m not planning on paying attention to Self Soothing.’ People say that who think, ‘I don’t deserve to self soothe. I’m not worth self soothing.’ If you’re saying that, well, just put that thought on the shelf. You’re going to be surprise. You could actually learn it.

Ok, I just have one last thing to say before I get going. I know you’re wondering if I’m ever going to get going but don’t worry, this is the last thing I have to say before I get going. I’ve got a lot of information. In fact, most people learn this information best if they take notes. So my advice to you is to get paper and pencil and take notes while you’re listening.  Now if you don’t have paper and pencil right now…well, if I were you, I’d get up, go to the program, switch it off, put it on pause, go get your paper, get a pencil, come back, get yourself all comfy, turn the program on, and we’ll get going.

Are you the kind of person who, if a crisis hits, you usually make things worse? If you’re the kind of person who does that, either a lot of the time or some of the time, this is the program for you. This is a program about how to get through a crisis without making it any worse than it already is. 

So when do you need crisis survival skills? You should look at the situation and see if it fits three criteria. 

First, it needs to be a real crisis. That is, it’s highly stressful, short term, and there’s a pressure to resolve the problem quickly. Second, it needs to be a crisis that can’t be resolved in the short term. In other words you can’t solve it right this minute. And third, has to be a situation you can’t afford to make worse than it already is.

If you put it all together, the basic bottom line is you need crisis survival skills when you’re in a crisis and you’ve got to tolerate it until you can make it better. So that’s what these skills are for. That kind of crisis. On this program I’m going to focus on two different kinds of skills. The first set of skills are going to be the Distract Skills and the second are going to be the self soothe. So we’re going to start with distract.

This text is the unofficial transcript of Behavioral Tech, LLC.
Chaos to Freedom Skills Training Video. Posted with permission from Behavioral Tech.
Transcribed by Sylvia James, May 15, 2006